When I heard that Google had built and announced their own 7” tablet based on their Android OS, my first thought was, “Why in the world are they doing that?” After all, their partners are supposed to be the ones using Android to bring smartphones and tablets to market. Google is a software company. I also thought, “Since they had acquired Motorola Mobility, wouldn’t an Android tablet be more appropriately launched by their hardware division?”
In my analyst briefing with Hiroshi Lockheimer (VP of Android Engineering), I expressed my surprise over both of these thoughts. Hiroshi told me he understood that people might think the same way I did, but from Google’s perspective, whenever they create a new version of Android they have to test it on hardware to make sure it works. They could just build a reference design and use it internally, but in order to really ‘shake out’ the new Android platform, they believed they needed to test it on commercially viable hardware. And, once they decided to create a commercial grade platform, Google felt there wasn’t any reason not to offer it to the market demonstrating what Google feels is a good example of a hardware design for the new version of Android.
In the case of Google creating the Jelly Bean version of Android, they developed the Nexus 7 hardware platform (with hardware partner Asus) to demonstrate how Google can show off the features of Jelly Bean and users can get full benefit from the device. (By the way, all new versions of Android are named after ‘tasty treats’ like Gingerbread, Honeycomb, Ice Cream Sandwich and Jelly Bean. I hope they will name a future version of Android ‘Chocolate Chip Cookie’ someday – yummy.)
In Jelly Bean (Version 4.1), Google has incorporated a number of widgets (small, well-defined apps) as part of the core user interface. This brings into the core OS a number of basic services, like My Library, that provide access to rich media. These modules are similar to those that were specially created by Amazon for the Kindle Fire and by Barnes & Noble for the Nook Tablet.
Jelly Bean also allows the mobile device to scale the user display from small smartphones to SmartTVs (those that incorporate Android).This will likely enable in a new level of intelligence in a number of HD TVs.
Another major development in Jelly Bean is the integration of previous versions into one code base that supports all devices from smartphones to tablets to HD TVs. Jelly Bean has a deployment module that enables the device manufacturer to designate a number of features about the device including screen size, and Android then adapts itself to that device class.
The Nexus 7 sells for $199, the same as the Amazon Kindle Fire, with 8GB of internal storage. A model with 16GB of storage is $249. Note that the Nexus 7 provides a microSD slot that enables the user to add up to 64GB of additional storage (or more once larger capacities are developed). Here’s a summary of the major specs (from Google Play):
I feel that Google should have offered LTE wireless broadband as an option. Sure, it affects the cost, but they could have offered a third model: one with LTE and 64GB of storage to equal what you can get in the iPad. The Nexus 7 doesn’t have a rear facing camera. I suspect Google will add that to their next version.
It also seems clear that mobile device user interfaces are going to migrate from a set of pure icons (like what Apple offers today in iOS) to icons of varying size and shape that focus on services so that they can provide their own set of apps and sub-services.
It will be interesting to see how Google manages the release of future tablets now that they have completed the acquisition of Motorola Mobility. I expect to see Google and Motorola do some very innovative things in the next couple of years, e.g. offering a tablet or smartphone for free (or very low cost) as long as the user signs up for a subscription to rich media – just like the process used by wireless operators today.
Hang on to your seat. We’re in for some very interesting developments in mobile.
J. Gerry Purdy, Ph.D.
Mobile & Wireless
Disclosure Statement: From time to time, I may have a direct or indirect equity position in a company that is mentioned in this column. If that situation happens, then I’ll disclose it at that time.